As an avid television viewer, I am constantly on the lookout for new shows: dramas, mysteries, thrillers, sitcoms, and more. Currently, I’ve been watching many ABC shows, including but not limited to Modern Family, Black-ish, Fresh off the Boat, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder. Yet, I look at the title of each show, and it seems to speak volumes about today’s culture.
In Ian Haney López’s book, White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race, he makes a bold claim when he says, “White should renounce their privileged racial status. They should do so, however, not simply out of guilt or any sense of self-deprecation, but because the edifice of Whiteness stands at the heart of racial inequality in America” (López 2006, 23). If I look specifically at the sitcoms, Black-ish and Fresh off the Boat (Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder deserve their own blog post), then it seems that the dominant white privilege remains instilled in the minds of Americans. ABC shows reach millions of viewers, and, yet, in the two sitcoms, we see how difficult it becomes for whites to renounce their privileged status.
In the two sitcoms’ titles, we see a lack of appreciation for other cultures. The “ish” on the end of Black is a direct connotation toward the family’s white tendencies. They live in a wealthy suburban home. The kids attend a predominantly white private school. Andre and Rainbow each have high-paying jobs as an advertising executive and doctor. In each episode, they are trying to establish their black culture or black tendencies, and yet they ultimately do “white” actions.
The title, Fresh Off the Boat, denotes an “otherness” about the family. The title can also be association toward immigration or slave boats, which demonstrates a “non-whiteness aspect” about the family. Thus, we see in the show’s plot that the family is indeed trying to be white. The show stems around the concept of an Asian family trying to fit in a white suburban neighborhood in Florida. The family moves away from Chinatown and, suddenly, they are constantly trying to mold themselves to their neighbor’s standards. The father figure opens a western-themed restaurant with white workers. The mother power-walks with the white upper-class women in her neighborhood. They go to American cookouts, and the oldest son is trying to fit in with the cool white kids in his school. The oldest son is also constantly trying to distance himself from his family in order to be “cool.”
While each show is merely exaggerating the stereotypes found within society, I wonder if these are the types of shows that ought to be airing. While they are satirical, sarcastic, and hyperbolic, do you believe that they are merely perpetuating the stereotypes or pointing out how ridiculous the stereotypes are? While cloaked in humor, the concepts of these shows center on a common theme: the superior white culture v. an inferior non-white culture. It also seems that the shows demonstrate López’s claim about the transparency phenomenon. He states, “transparency is established and maintained first in the assertion that Whites are a physical grouping and second in the assertion that everyone knows what White is” (López 2006, 19). We intrinsically recognize when each of these characters are acting “white” and “nonwhite,” which I believe is a problem in itself. What do you guys think?